CINCINNATI (AP)—With Lazar Hayward leading the way again, No. 17 Marquette finally got one for the road.
Hayward scored 19 points—his second big game in a row—as the Golden Eagles repeatedly worked the ball inside for easy baskets Saturday, setting up a 75-60 victory that gave Cincinnati its comeuppance.
The Golden Eagles (16-4, 6-3 Big East) rallied from a nine-point deficit in the first half to their first road win in the conference. Hayward led the way, scoring 14 in the second half as Marquette built a 15-point lead and held on.
Their first three road games in the Big East ended in losses of 15, 20 and 26 points.
“We’re a team that likes to play on the road,” Hayward said. “We’ve only had a couple of bad games. But sometimes you play a good team on the road and you get away from your game plan.”
Not this time. Four Marquette players finished in double figures in a balanced attack that has carried the Golden Eagles to three straight wins. Hayward had a career-high 23 points in the last game, a 62-54 win over South Florida.
Ousmane Barro added a season-high 19 points, going 9-of-10 from the field against a defense that often lost track of him near the basket.
“The key is to get off to a fast start and stay with the flow of the game,” Barro said. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and my teammates found me.”
It wasn’t hard. Cincinnati (10-12, 5-5) repeatedly had breakdowns under the basket, giving up 40 points in the paint.
After a poor practice on Friday, some of the Bearcats saw this one coming.
“Practice was terrible,” said Deonta Vaughn, who had a team-high 23 points. “We didn’t come out with intensity in practice. We were just going through the motions to get practice over with. We made a lot of silly mistakes.”
Both teams had breakthroughs in mind. Marquette had been 0-3 on the road in the Big East, raising questions about the Golden Eagles’ mettle. The 15-point victory was comforting.
“Our guys matured in a short period of time,” coach Tom Crean said. “When we got down on the road in other games, we’d have a couple of different guys hanging their heads, or we’d not get that lift off the bench. Our guys just stuck with it.”
The Bearcats had already knocked off two ranked teams at home—No. 19 Villanova and No. 15 Pittsburgh—and needed one more win to match their victory total from last season.
Plus, they had a little swagger in their stride for this one. The Bearcats were coming off a 62-39 victory at West Virginia against former coach Bob Huggins, a lopsided win that could help heal the program.
A little too much swagger, as it turned out.
“I’m embarrassed at our effort,” coach Mick Cronin said. “I’m never going to be happy when the other team is diving on the floor and my team is not.
“Today we had a great opportunity that we let slip away because we had the wrong attitude, we got the wrong approach. We got too big for our britches and we got clipped.”
At the outset, it was ugly. Both teams repeatedly missed open shots—the defining moment was Cincinnati’s Kenny Belton botching a wide-open dunk.
Vaughn’s 3-pointer put the Bearcats up 22-13 with 5:49 left in the half, a lead built on Marquette’s inability to make a shot. The Golden Eagles were only 5-of-20 from the field.
Then, Cincinnati went cold, missing nine shots the rest of the half. Jerel McNeal had a pair of baskets in a 15-3 run that closed the half and put Marquette up 28-24.
Barro took advantage of Cincinnati’s defensive breakdowns under the basket, repeatedly getting in position for passes that led to layups. His inside basket stretched the lead to 38-29 early in the second half, putting Marquette in control for good.
Wesley Matthews scored inside and hit a 3 from the left corner, pushing the lead to 48-33. Cincinnati repeatedly missed layups, with center Adam Hrycaniuk having an especially hard time close to the basket.
After Cincinnati’s 10-point run cut it to 50-46, struggling Marquette guard Dominic James got his first basket, a driving scoop shot that ended his 0-for-6 slump and ended the Bearcats’ comeback.
James, who leads Marquette with 13.5 points per game, has been in a deep shooting slump. He went 1-for-7 in the win over South Florida, and finished 2-for-9 from the field for eight points against Cincinnati.